The core of new relationships is the deep bond a couple builds through intimate interaction, in particular through their daily conversations. This post explains how to apply Dr. John Gottman’s skills for sharing compassion and empathy with your partner.
The ideas are theoretically pretty straightforward, but difficult to put into practice. If you find implementing them to be a challenge, remember Dr. John Gottman’s advice: “No opinions or problem solving until you’ve gone through the four steps of attunement.”
Also, remember that immediate advice may come off as glib and insulting to your partner. They may think to themselves, ‘Does this person think I’m so dumb I can’t come up with my own solution?’ This probably rings a few bells of annoyance and maybe even indignation.
Below, you’ll find an illustration of two possible conversations between Sam and Charlie, a young couple walking home from a dinner with their mutual friend, Abby.
The first example is a failed attempt at expressing compassion and empathy in a bid for intimate conversation:
Sam: I couldn’t believe how Micah reacted when I brought up what happened. What a crude attempt at changing the subject! Who does she think she is? Just shutting me down like that…
Charlie: You know Abby just doesn’t like to listen. Next time, you shouldn’t bring it up; it makes everything so awkward.
Sam: You’re such a pushover. Why can’t you stand up for me? You thought she was acting weird. I don’t see why I can’t talk to her about it.
Charlie: Come on, we’ve been through this before. Let’s have some coffee or something.
Sam: No, I don’t want any.
In this scenario, Charlie reacts without considering Sam’s need for support. Charlie immediately rushes to offer an explanation, even defending the person their partner feels attacked by. Charlie refuses to engage with Sam on an emotional level and attempts to distract instead. Sam is left feeling disappointed and even more frustrated than before. Sam expected empathy and instead received advice they didn’t ask for and criticism they certainly didn’t expect to hear. Here is a way that Sam could apply Dr. John Gottman’s skills for intimate conversation to the same scenario, increasing their attunement and trust in each other:
Sam: I couldn’t believe how Abby reacted when I brought up what happened. What a crude attempt at changing the subject! Who does she think she is? Just shutting me down like that…
Charlie: I’m sorry, I understand how that would make you upset. I know you wanted to help, but she never wants to go there.
Sam: I like Abby… It’s just so frustrating that I have to walk on eggshells around her. It’s exhausting.
Charlie: That makes sense. I hate it when I have to censor myself in social situations. I just want to relax, too.
Sam: Yeah. You know what? Let’s have some coffee together.
Try these techniques in your own relationship, and the results may surprise you. By engaging in supportive, intimate conversations with your partner, you can build trust, which is the most important ingredient in a healthy, happy relationship.
Get the conversation started with the Gottman Relationship Coach. In this all-new interactive experience, Drs. John and Julie Gottman take you through the Sound Relationship House with couples’ communication advice to get you both talking and listening.